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Estrada Lawyers Seek Dismissal of Charges

November 25, 2000|From Associated Press

MANILA — Lawyers for Philippine President Joseph Estrada asked the Senate on Friday to dismiss impeachment charges against him, saying they were technically flawed. Opposition lawmakers said Estrada was trying to delay his trial.

In a motion filed with the Senate, the lawyers questioned the speed with which the House of Representatives forwarded the articles of impeachment to the Senate early last week. Estrada is accused of pocketing millions of dollars from kingpins of illegal gambling and from tobacco tax kickbacks.

There was no vote on the impeachment complaint by the House. Rep. Manuel Villar, who was then House speaker, ruled that a vote was unnecessary because more than the required one-third of the members had earlier signed a petition endorsing impeachment.

Estelito Mendoza, a former justice secretary and one of Estrada's lawyers, however, said those who endorsed the impeachment did so "on the basis of belief, not facts."

This violated a constitutional requirement for a preliminary investigation to determine whether the charges can be substantiated, he said.

"If it turns out that accusations were false, you can be guilty of perjury," he said in an interview with radio station DZMM.

In what would be the first impeachment trial for a Philippine president, Estrada is charged with bribery, corruption, violation of the constitution and betrayal of public trust.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Hilario Davide, who heads the Senate impeachment tribunal, set a hearing on the dismissal motion for Tuesday.

Opposition lawmakers hit back at the president.

Rep. Joker Arroyo, one of the 11 members of the House prosecution panel, said the administration "is engaged in doublespeak."

The impeachment charges, which Estrada has denied, have plunged the Philippines into its worst political crisis in years, threatening the country's ailing economy.

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